Dressed in a cloak made of shifting darkness, wielding an axe that burns but is never consumed, and encased in a shell of the toughest materials known to mortals, you step through an ancient portal and into lands once thought forever lost. Before you lays the city of Paineel, inhabited by the brightest minds in the world and built into the side of a cliff on an island that floats miles above the planet below. A man dressed in white approaches you and, observing that you possess a great power, whispers a request in your ear. “Can you kill some rats for me?” Welcome back to EverQuest II.
Whether it was an intentional joke by the developers or simply a coincidence, the fact that the several of the earliest quests in EverQuest II: Sentinel’s Fate has you killing normal-sized (albeit level 80) rats kind of works as a metaphor for Sentinel’s Fate as a whole. Most MMOs – including EverQuest II – use the release of an expansion as an opportunity to change the game. Past expansions have added the Alternate Advancement system, new races and new trade-skills. Sentinel’s Fate has simply extended the game as it was, adding a little extra across the board.
Level caps across the board have been raised from 80 to 90. This includes your standard character level, trade-skill levels, and guild levels. Along with the raise in level caps, players naturally get new abilities and recipes. The alternate advancement point cap has also been raised from 200 to 250, meaning players have an extra 50 point to dump into tweaking their character. Extra alternate advancement options have been added too, as well as a few new (and quite large) zones for you to run around and quest in. What hasn’t been added are wild new abilities that allow players to change their play styles. In fact, there were no new abilities added at all, merely new ranks of older ones. When you load up your character after the install, EQ2 is fundamentally no different than it was before hand.
The overland zones look kind of shabby.This isn’t a terrible thing per se – extra content can never really be a bad thing. But without the ability to play a new race or class, or level a new tradeskill, or take my character in a different direction than before, there isn’t much inclination to keep playing after you’ve seen most of what the new zones have to offer.
The new zones, by the way, are a bit of a mixed bag. Two new overland areas have been added – The Sundered Frontier, and The Stonebrunt Highlands. The Frontier is about 70% arid land, crawling with stone elementals and twisted (and evidently evil) trees, and 30% forest (which, honestly, is pretty sparsely vegetated) and is home to the Erudite city of Paineel. Paineel serves as your central quest hub for the majority of your time on The Sundered Frontier. The city, in contrast with the surrounding zone, is quite pretty, and it’s evident that a lot of time went into rendering it. The Sundered Frontier, meanwhile, is not particularly exciting.
Here’s a breakdown of your time on the Frontier: “Hey, Adventurer! Some things have gone haywire and you need to fix them by killing monsters. Also, we are researching monsters so we need you to go and kill monsters. Oh, and we don’t like these other monsters, so go kill them too.” A lot of the quests (especially towards the early parts of Sentinel’s Fate) send you rubberbanding between the beasts you have to slay, and the indecisive quest giver who keeps giving you another reason to kill them. It’s really unfortunate that this is the first zone players visit in the expansion, because compared to the other areas, it’s simply bland.
Below the city of Paineel things get a little more interesting in an area known as The Hole. Most of the areas worth visiting in this underground labyrinth of tunnels and ruins are for upper-level players. It’s also designed for groups, so even should you struggle through the above-ground territory long enough to earn your time below here, without a couple friends accompanying you, your time here will be brief and/or frustrating.
The Stonebrunt Highlands feels like a completely different game. Instead of fighting the boring forces of nature, you come across the substantially more awesome forces of darkness. Rather than walking through a brown wasteland, you walk along a territory warped by the presence of The Void. Even the more civilized areas here are more exciting, as the Erudite excavate an enormous, ancient device in the in the middle of a ruined city.
It’s this continent that display Sentinel’s Fate’s greatest strengths. Scripted events – such as the mass-invasion of Void monsters – save you from feeling like little more than an errand boy (and rat dispatcher). It is also here that the entrance to the nifty dungeons of the Vasty Deep lay, below Deepwater Pavilion. Dungeons are Sentinel’s Fate’s strongest point. There are about a dozen of them and each has numerous unique and interesting encounters. They’re mostly tuned for level 90 players, however, so to get stuck in to them, you have to suffer through the mediocre overland questing (or grab some friends to pull you through the higher-level stuff early). The indoor areas of Sentinel’s Fate are far and away the best-looking areas of the game, with a high level of polish and loads of little details.
Indoors, the polish and level of detail is surprising.By contrast, after spending some time within a dungeon or underground, exploring the overland continues to be a visual disappointment. Chunks of land, even in Stonebrunt, feel like they’ve just been slammed together incongruously, and stepping from one part of the continent to another is jarring and greatly hinders immersion. It’s clear where time and resources were spent, and where they were not.
I mentioned quests earlier, and I’ll delve into them a little deeper here. For the most part, at least in the early stages, the tasks you perform feel comically inconsequential. When you’re not doing pest-control, you’re feeding felines or romancing royalty for a simpleton. Some may like the lightheartedness of these quests, but when you’re geared to the teeth in equipment you gained from besting gods, it just feels like you’re taking a lot of backward steps. Most quests are encased in their own storylines, most of which never progress beyond “I need a favor and can reward you.” Despite the possible complaints about more Void plotline (this is the third and final expansion to feature the story arc), at least what you’re doing there feels important and tied to the world.
Compounding this annoyance is that many quests need to be repeated, and few are tied together to speed up the process. Just as an example, you may have to kill some spirits that inhabit the ruins above Paineel. That’s all you have to do there, though, and no other quests send you to that area. After you finish that quest, you may get a chance to repeat it for more experience, but with no cross-over in terms of quest targets, it’s frequently slow-going.
Let’s face it, though. If you’re currently playing EQ2, then chances are you’re already up to your waist in Sentinel’s Fate and loving it. It’s an expansion in the most accurate sense of the word – it expands everything that EQ2 already had, but doesn’t really add anything different. If you’re a new player looking to start, Sentinel’s Fate – like the expansion before it – comes with the original game and all prior expansions included, so it’s extremely good value. If you’re looking to come back to EQ2 after a hiatus, you simply need to ask yourself if you want more of the same. For my money, Sentinel’s Fate brings a good amount of content, but doesn’t do enough to truly excite.